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Preying on Innocents

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- 17 January 2000 - Tip Jar

I've worked in a number of retail jobs, starting with a part-time position at a local camera shop in high school. Over the years I've sold camera equipment, stereo gear, consumer electronics, and personal computers.

In every case, we took care of the customer and had a decent return policy. With the exception of perishable items such as film or piratable things like software, if you bought something and returned it unopened within a few days (up to 30 days, depending on the store), you got a refund.

If you had paid with a credit card, we issued a credit. If you had paid cash, we would issue a check once we knew yours had cleared. And if you returned a cash purchase, that depended on the details - but if you'd purchased it the same day, we still had your cash and could refund it.

Now I've found a store that doesn't work that way, and I'm very disappointed with them.

Funcoland

Funcoland has a lucrative business selling primarily preowned games and game systems - mostly to children. Compared with new game prices at Toys R Us and elsewhere, their used game prices are quite reasonable.

My four sons are enamored of games, both on their Macs and on game systems: Nintendo, GameBoy, PlayStation, Sega Genesis, and Nintendo 64. One of their favorite stores is Funcoland, particularly the one at 4168 28th Street S.E. in Kentwood, MI.

This store is a few doors down from BoRics, where we usually get our hair cut. We usually let the kids go to Funcoland while waiting their turn with the hairstylist - or afterwards. And they're under strict instructions not to spend money without a parent present.

My wife and I have a lifetime of spending money in stores. You can probably say the same thing. Whether it's groceries, clothes, furniture, or less necessary items, most of us buy most things from retail stores.

Over time, you develop a sense for those you like, those you tolerate, and those you mistrust.

Having been in Funcoland dozens and dozens of times over the years, we have never liked the place. Much of the time the store is so busy you have to wait in line for a condescending vidiot to wait on you, never sure he knows what he's talking about, always suspicious he's trying to pull a fast one. (Service contracts and video game clubs usually fit that category.)

On top of that, turnover a the local Funcoland is incredible. It seems they have a complete change in staff every month or two - not a good way to build credibility.

Then there's their trade-in policy. They have a published price list so anyone can know what their used game system and game prices are this month. In the back of the store, they also have a list of what your old game or game system is worth on trade.

Maybe I should clarify that: they have a list of the maximum they are willing to give you for your stuff depending on its condition, how much you're trading in, and how little they believe they can get away offering you for a game system and a box full of games. All this after testing the games and system to be sure everything actually works.

In my experience, the kids would be better off selling the games to friends at school for five bucks each than dealing with Funcoland.

Based on their trade-in prices and selling prices, Funcoland has a very nice profit margin. Even with their warranty on stored tested used equipment, the markup is impressive.

But through a child's eyes, Funcoland is today's candy store. All those used games - and usually far cheaper than new ones. The walls are lined with games for all the popular game systems.

And, of course, they'll gladly sell you a brand new PlayStation, Sega Dreamcast, or GameBoy Color.

The Problem

That's where the problem lies. On Saturday, while his parents were getting their hair cut, our twelve-year-old broke the rules and bought a GameBoy Color at Funcoland. His was broken, the local place that's supposed to service it never seems to be open, and he had the cash, so he bought a new GameBoy Color for $79.95.

Had he said anything to his parents, we would have told him not to. Earlier in the day we had purchased a replacement from Toys R Us for $69.97.

But he didn't know this. He gave the man at Funcoland his cash and left with a GameBoy Color. He returned to BoRics with the game machine, we explained the situation, and sent him back to Funcoland to get his money back.

The store refused to give him back the cash he'd given them five minutes earlier. They offered either a store credit ($80 worth of games) or a refund check in seven to ten days.

"It's store policy," the store manager explained. (Someone we'd never seen before - but that's typical at this store.) "We have a sign."

"Did you explain to my son when you took his cash that you don't give cash refunds."

"No, but there's a sign."

They finally showed me the sign. It was on the counter, it was farther into the store than the GameBoy equipment and the cash register, and it was conveniently positioned facing the back of the store.

Funcoland quickly moved from the tolerate category to the mistrust one. I've worked enough retail to know how you treat customers. Sometimes you bend the rules a bit, like voiding a transaction if you can't otherwise refund it.

After all, the first rule of customer service used to be, "The customer is king." At Funcoland, it seems to be, "The customer is a sucker."

I've worked for local stores and national chains. If a customer returned almost anything the same day, they were refunded. If they had written a check, we voided the sale and returned their undeposited check. If they had charged it, we issued a credit. And if they had paid cash, we gave them their money back.

Funcoland probably would have been constrained to issue a credit on a Visa or MasterCard immediately - but twelve-year-olds don't usually pay that way.

I don't know what they would have done with a check, but then none of our sons have checking accounts. I half suspect they would have deposited the check instead of returning it, issuing a refund check from corporate headquarters after the check cleared.

But it was a cash sale. They had the money in the register. There was no reason for them to take advantage of a minor, saying, "It's his problem, not ours."

The Solution

Our son decided to keep the GameBoy Color. We could always take the other one back to Toys R Us, a store that knows how to take care of its customers.

I don't ever want to deal with Funcoland again. And I want to warn you to be aware of the policies of this predatory operation that targets children.

I've disliked Funcoland in the past for their poor customer service and dismal trade-ins, but never had a reason to wish them ill until now. The lesson cost us $10 (compared with Toys R US), but it also cost them a family of regular customers - and anyone else we can warn about their willingness to take cash from kids without explaining their no cash refunds policy (conveniently posted on a sign facing away from the door and cash register).

Buyer beware.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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